Consequences of Conduct
Text: Proverbs 21:1-31
God is involved
The illustration is that of irrigation ditches used to water a field. The farmer can control where the water will flow by making changes to the channels the water flows through. Oddly, from the water’s point of view, it is going in the direction it wants (from high ground to low ground). It doesn’t necessarily see it is being manipulated. In the same way, God is able to direct the way a king goes. The king might think that he is in control and from his viewpoint he is freely choosing the direction he wants to go; yet, he is unaware that he is being manipulated by God to accomplish God’s purpose. A good example is how Ahab was convinced to enter a battle where he would be killed (I Kings 22:20-22). Even when told of God’s design, Ahab thought he could outsmart God. Ahab’s rebelliousness was used against him by God. Related verses that state God is in control (Proverbs 16:1, 9; 19:21; 20:24; Daniel 4:35; Romans 9:15-18). Related verses that indicate that God is able to put thoughts into men’s hearts (Ezra 7:27; Revelation 17:17; Psalm 33:15).
People are naturally biased. They tend to view themselves as being good and the actions that they do must be right (Luke 16:15; 18:11-12). However, we are judged by God and not by ourselves (I Corinthians 4:4-5; Revelation 2:23; Jeremiah 17:10).
God is more concerned about actual righteousness than mere rituals or man-made ideas of serving God. Sacrifices are for men and not for God (I Samuel 15:22; Psalms 50:7-15; Micah 6:7-8). Wicked people are able to offer sacrifices, but it doesn’t benefit them (Proverbs 15:8; Isaiah 1:10-20; Hosea 6:4-9). Rituals do not balance out sin (Isaiah 58:1-12).
There is a subtle progression in Proverbs 21:4. What the eyes focus on enters the heart and the heart in turn influences what a person does (Proverbs 16:18; Matthew 6:22-23). “Lamp” here would be a person’s reputation (I Kings 15:4; Job 21:17; Proverbs 13:9; 24:20). There is a debate regarding “lamp” (the Hebrew word ner). Some versions have “plow” or “planning” (the Hebrew word nir) (Job 4:8-9). Either way, the overall point of the proverb is not that much different. Too often we look at the outcome and see the wrongfulness in a sinful action. But Solomon is saying that sin begins earlier. It starts with the attitude, thoughts, and plans (Mark 7:21-23; Matthew 5:28). These are just as bad as the actual commitment of sin.
Impulsive decisions will eventually lead to poverty as too many mistakes are made. It takes hard work and planning to gain an advantage. Notice that it doesn’t say hard work and planning will guarantee success. We’ve seen a number of passages so far dealing with planning:
- The example of the ants working while there is plenty (Proverbs 6:6-8)
- Acting in advance of need (Proverbs 10:5)
- Working with knowledge (Proverbs 13:16)
- To this we add the need for hard work and planning
- Proverbs 16:2 and Proverbs 21:2 are very similar but not exactly the same. What different points do they make?
- Notice that Proverbs 16:1-2 and Proverbs 21:1-2 follow a similar progression of thought. Why is there so much repetition in Proverbs? What purpose does it serve?
- Is God telling the Israelites not to offer sacrifices?
- Why do we need plans with diligent work? Could one without the other also give an advantage?
Of course, there are always people who try to find shortcuts to wealth. Hard work isn’t fun or fast, so many will use lies to gain what they want (Proverbs 10:2; 13:11). However, wealth gained by lying rarely lasts and might even get you killed (Jeremiah 17:11).
The result of sin is often a punishment for sin. Wicked people tend to die violently because they refuse to do what is right.
While Proverbs 21:8 seems to be stating the obvious, it is important to note that how a person behaves reveals his heart. Wicked people get involved in devious schemes. Righteous people act in a straightforward manner. There is a pun in the Hebrew for this verse “guilty” translates a rare Hebrew word wazar, while “clean” or “pure” translates the Hebrew word wezah.
A contentious woman is someone who finds fault. She is rarely happy and is set on arguing about every little matter. While a man might put up with it for a while, the constant harping will eventually get to him. Solomon uses the extreme to make the point – you won’t be able to live with such a woman. It is a warning to men to be careful about who they pick as a mate. Beauty, charm, and housekeeping skills are not the only criteria that should be examined. Marriage is about companionship (Malachi 2:14; Genesis 2:18).
A wicked person actually enjoys doing wickedness. Concerns about another person’s welfare doesn’t enter into his thoughts (Isaiah 32:6-8; Micah 3:2-3; Proverbs 14:21).
Proverbs 21:11 is very similar to Proverbs 19:25, but the application is different. The inexperienced are easily lead astray by scorners or mockers because such people appear confident in what they believe (Proverbs 14:15; Ephesians 4:14). They lack the knowledge and experience to see dangers (Proverbs 7:7). When scorners are punished that the inexperienced who followed them see the result and become less naive. But a wise man doesn’t need such an extreme example in order to learn. Simply instructing him will make him more knowledgeable (Proverbs 9:9; 18:15). Notice that some people learn from negative examples and others learn from positive instruction.
- Regarding dealing with a contentious wife: Too often the response to anger and nagging is anger in return. Will that solve the problem? (James 1:19-20)
- What might motivate a woman to be contentious?
- When dealing with a truly wicked person, can you reason with him?
Consideration of others
God doesn't overlook sinners, He punishes them. God doesn't miss what the wicked do and He will avenge. There is some debate whether “righteous one” refers to God or a righteous man. In the latter, it would be that a righteous man considers that God overthrows the wicked (Psalms 37:35-38; 73:17,20). Evil doesn’t disappear by being ignored. The wise person considers it and takes measure against it (Isaiah 1:17).
When you treat the disadvantaged poorly, the same will happen to you in your time of need (Matthew 18:30-34; Isaiah 1:15-17). This is the opposite of what was taught in Proverbs 19:17 and Isaiah 58:6-11.
A gift, or bribe, to alter justice is wrong. Bribing someone who is supposed to be neutral, such as a judge or a government worker, is wrong. But here we are talking about handling someone who is mad at you. It is a corollary to the idea that a gift wins attention and friends (Proverbs 18:16; 19:6). An example would be Jacob’s gift to the ruler in Egypt (Genesis 43:11). A gift will cool things down, but Solomon says it needs to be done privately. If you publicly give a gift to someone who is mad at you, he will see it as lacking sincerity. You are trying to force his hand using public pressure, which he will resent it. A private gift will look more sincere since you can't directly gain something by the act of giving the gift. A private gift gives him a chance to think, change his position, and not have to explain why to anyone -- so you are more likely to get a change (Romans 12:20-21).
The righteous are happy when justice is done, but to those who act without authority (iniquity) justice causes fear (Romans 13:3-5). This theme was discussed in Proverbs 10:24-30.
Staying on the path of understanding, or reason, is important. The use of “wander” indicates a person who is careless about the direction he goes in his life and not willfully rebelling. Even so, such a person’s final stop will be among the dead.
A person who loves pleasure and expensive things spends all his money. But pleasure and things don't last, so in the end he has nothing to show for it. Since pleasures are temporary, they must constantly be renewed; thus, they become a bottomless pit for money.
A ransom is what you give to regain what you value. Thus, God is willing to give over the wicked and treacherous in order to save the righteous and the upright (Isaiah 43:3-4). This proverbs is similar to Proverbs 11:8.
You can’t stop a person who is set on arguing and finding fault. It is better to go live alone in the wilderness. In other words, it is better to have no company than bad company. This is similar to Proverbs 21:9. This is both a warning to young men about picking a suitable companion and a warning to women that they can drive their husbands away by their misbehavior.
- Why are warnings about living with a contentious woman repeated so often?
The wise stores up for future needs, but the foolish squanders all that he has and is left with nothing. Wisdom can lead to wealth (Psalms 112:3; Proverbs 15:6; Ecclesiastes 7:11), though true treasure is in heaven (Matthew 6:19-20). Contrast this to Proverbs 21:17.
When you seek after righteousness and mercy you gain life, righteousness, honor. Thus you gain what you seek and more. It isn’t just “follow” but “run after” or to diligently pursue (Matthew 5:6; Philippians 3:12; I Timothy 6:11). Notice that by presenting this with only the positive (and not a contrast) it emphasizes how much more is gained.
Wisdom is stronger than strength (II Samuel 20:16-22; Ecclesiastes 7:19; 9:14-18). Those less than wise put there trust in things that will fail.
If you can control your mouth, you can keep yourself out of trouble (James 1:26; 3:2-13). Similar proverbs are Proverbs 10:19; 12:13; 13:3; 18:21.
More bad behavior
"Fury," or in some translations "pride," is a word for an emotional outburst. A scoffer is more than just prideful, he is proud of his pride. If his ego is wounded, he lashes out emotionally; thus, pride often causes some people to become angry. The actions of a man reveals his character. People know that being proud, haughty or a scoffer is not good, but few think that their actions will cause them to be labeled as such. This becomes a contrast to Proverbs 21:23.
A lazy man has no limits on what he wants, but he never gets them because he won’t work. What he wants most of all is not to work and that leads to his death. This is one reason why a lazy man falls prey to get rich quick schemes. Similar proverbs are: Proverbs 13:4; 20:4.
The lazy consumes all that is available. Since he avoids work, he doesn’t replace what he uses. In contrast, the righteous, who are diligent, have enough to share with those who are in need (Ephesians 4:28; Psalm 112:9; II Corinthians 9:9-14; Luke 6:30-36).
Offering worship doesn’t balance out sin. You can’t cover for sin with sacrifices (Jeremiah 6:19-20; Isaiah 1:11-16). As an example, consider a person living in fornication or adultery, but then excusing it by saying, “I prayed about it.” Or a person who says, “If I win the lottery, I’ll give 10% to God.” This was the fault of Saul (I Samuel 13:12; 15:21-23). Worse, though, are those who use righteous acts to accomplish evil (Matthew 23:14; James 4:1-5). For example, a person who prays for success in robbing a bank. A similar proverb is Proverbs 15:8.
Proverbs 21:28 makes heavy use of ellipses. It literally states, “A witness of lies will perish, but one who listens, unto forever he will speak.” There is a contrast between testifying lies and listening; thus, the implication is he is listening to either truth or God. When someone perishes, he stops speaking, but the one who listens speaks forever (Proverbs 12:19). A person who listens to God speaks the truth. As often as he speaks, he is consistent because truth never changes. This is unlike the liar who eventually contradicts himself because he changes his story. A liar destroys himself (Proverbs 19:5,9). In other words, you can spot a liar because his story changes. The person who tells the truth has a consistent story.
A wicked person just assumes he has the right and goes in the direction he wants. He never gives consideration as to whether he is going the right way or not (Jeremiah 8:12). A righteous man thinks about the way he is going, He is willing to question himself and look for the right way. Thus, a wicked man looks like he is confident, but he is on shaky ground (Psalms 52:7). Consider the harlot in Proverbs 7:13. A righteous man might look like he has doubts, but he always stands on firm ground. A similar proverb is Proverbs 11:5.
God always wins
Nothing is wise, reasonable or good advice if it is contrary to God (Isaiah 7:5-7; 14:27). you can't go against God and succeed. People in their "wisdom" often think they are smarter than God, but all they do is prove how foolish they are. A similar proverbs is Proverbs 19:21.
We have less control over things than we might think. We do the best we can, but the true victory comes because of God, not our plans or skills. Thus, this is a warning not to get prideful in our abilities (Psalms 20:7; 33:17; 147:10; Isaiah 31:1). There are things which are outside your control, but all things are under God's control (Psalms 68:20). It isn't saying we should do nothing because God wants us to be active.